Art & Entertainment

Movie Review|Love And Friendship In The Time Of Smartphones And Social Media

The film is about today’s youngsters and the smartphone—so many apps to chat, to share, to make friends, and yet such lonely lives

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Screengrabs from Kho Gaye Hum Kahan: The film devotes a lot of screen time to frenetic fingers sliding on a smartphone screen
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Kho Gaye Hum Kahan (KGHK) is said to be the Dil Chahta Hai (DCH, 2001) of Gen Z (or whatever they are called now. Should it be Gen Zero—they contain everything, and nothing?). Twenty years ago, with India well into the economic reforms era, DCH tried to mirror the ambition, confusion and the emotional atyachar of the youth of that time. Well, at least a certain kind of youth—south Bombay, with a penchant for designer clothes, hip sunshades and sharp haircuts. Now the characters of KGHK are DCH stars Aamir Khan and Saif Ali Khan’s children’s age, and grappling with the same confusion and torment of growing up but with one big difference—the smartphone and the many social media apps loaded in them. The film devotes a lot of screen time to frenetic fingers sliding on a smartphone screen.

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It’s the same gang which has made this film too. Farhan Akhtar was the director there, he is the producer here. Along with the pair of Zoya Akhtar (casting director in DCH) and Reema Kagti, the golden girls of OTT in India (Made in Heaven, Dahaad, The Archies). The lyrics are by Javed Akhtar for both films. Works from this stable (DCH, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Rock On…), let’s call it the Akhtarverse, come with a certain quality assurance, of certain sensibilities, but also a certain predictability, the envelope pushed within decent limits but always short of breaking out, scratches on the surface but never a deep cut. The actors are easy on the eye, the sets lovingly designed, the lighting always moody, the camera unobtrusively recording it all, the music foot-tapping (the songs here may grow on you, but DCH had more alluring numbers).

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Ahana (Ananya Panday), Imaad (Siddhant Chaturvedi) and Neel (Adarsh Gaurav) are childhood friends and BFFs now. Their second names are Singh, Ali and Pereira, but that they are like Amar, Akbar, Anthony is incidental, not germane to the script. Ahana is an MBA-type, slogging away in a corporate cubicle where her original presentations are suitably stolen by her superior. Imaad is a stand-up comic, though it doesn’t seem he needs the money to survive, he is generally well off, his mother who died when he was nine has left him a tidy fortune. Ahana and Imaad also share a house. Neel comes from a poorer background, but lives in an equally well designed and appropriately lit house, his father’s tight tees and mother’s housecoats only hint at their middle class lives. The three are carefree, just goofing around, all taking baby steps into their careers and adulthood.

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Then the internet intervenes. Ahana’s boyfriend, Rohan, wants a break from her. But on a social media app, she discovers he is sending throbbing heart emojis to another girl. Ahana becomes obsessed with his posts, tries to outdo him by posting made-up photos of hers to attract his attention and turns into a stalker. Neel is a gym instructor who befriends one of his clients, the airy social media influencer called Laxmi Lalvani (Anya Singh, revelling in meanness), or Lala to the millions she influences. He is besotted by her, tells his buddies she is more than a friend, but for her, life is only about likes, views and subscribers. Imaad is shown going to a therapist, he is a serial-dater on Tinder, hooks up with girls and blocks them the morning after. He meets the older Simran Kohli (Kalki Koechlin), they have a thing going, but she discovers tearfully that his Tinder addiction is intact.

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The actors are easy on the eye, the sets lovingly designed, the lighting always moody, the camera unobtrusively recording it all, the music foot-tapping.

There it is, the story in a line of an Akhtarverse franchise—kuch khatta, kuch meetha; kabhi neem, neem, kabhi shahad, shahad. As it is about today’s youngsters, the smartphone is the all-consuming demon. So many apps to chat on, to share, to make friends, and yet such lonely lives. In case the showing is not enough, it is told too: “It is so strange that the world has never been so connected and yet we are all so lonely,” proclaims Ahana (or dialogues to that effect). Usually, there is a death (poor Dimple Kapadia in DCH as the writers didn’t know how to end an older woman-younger man relationship. Happily, in 2024, Kalki Koechlin lives) but this film spares us even that.

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Panday, I suspect, plays mostly herself in the film. But she is more assured than in Gehraiyaan, in some scenes her brittle, vulnerable part is just on the verge of crumbling. Chaturvedi too is becoming better with every film. The raw energy of Gully Boy and the darker shades in Gehraiyaan are smoothened here for a silken performance. But the actor to look out for is Adarsh Gaurav. His edgy, twisted Balram Halwai in Aravind Adiga’s Booker winning adaptation The White Tiger was stellar. He stood out in the recent OTT caper Guns & Gulaabs as the young son of a don trying to earn his cred. Here he seems a bit off-colour, not quite gelling with the rest of the cast and crew, but that unease also adds to his character who is not from the same milieu.

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Now for the neem, neem part. Imaad uses his friends’ lives to liven up his stand-up act. One evening he goes overboard, ridiculing Lala, when Neel is still in her thrall, for being a hare-brained social media influencer. They have a showdown where Neel calls him what he really is, an ‘intimacy-phobic’ insecure, maladjusted youth. Harsh words are exchanged. The friends fall apart. Meanwhile, Imaad, in one of his acts ‘comes out’, recounts his childhood trauma, the reason he is in therapy.

It all of course ends well, scarred and wounded, the three friends bond even stronger. Imaad and Ahana fund Neel’s new gym, Imaad’s act goes places. In a strange way though, what the film disses so much—the social media influencers, the dating apps, the Twitters and Facebooks, the Instas and YouTubes—devours the actors, the filmmakers, the producers, so much in their real Bollywood lives. How much they are all slaves to the apps they are messaging in the film to keep away from.

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(This appeared in the print as 'Up In The Air')

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